Memphis Police Ask for Help in Solving Mass Slaying

Residents prayed and officers went door to door looking for tips that could lead to a suspect or a motive in one of the city's biggest murder investigations in decades.

Police ruled out a murder-suicide in the deaths of four adults and two children, saying they believed the attacker or attackers were not among the dead. But they released little other information and conceded they had virtually nothing to go on.

"We're working with a blank sheet of paper," police spokeswoman Monique Martin said.

The bodies were found in a small brick home on a dead-end street in a poor neighborhood east of downtown Monday. Three more children were found wounded; two were in critical condition and the third in serious condition, police said.

Five of the victims had been shot and at least one child had been stabbed sometime between Saturday night and Monday evening, authorities said. The children ranged in age from about 1 to 12 years old, police said.

Last fall, the FBI ranked Memphis eighth in the country for reports of serious crimes per capita, though local law enforcement questioned the FBI's methodology.

Even in a city accustomed to violence, the killings stunned the neighborhood.

About 200 attended a prayer service Tuesday evening at the neighborhood's First Baptist Church, and Pastor Keith Norton said relatives of some of the victims were among the worshippers. Norton declined to identify them by name.

Earlier, about 30 residents gathered to pray for the victims Tuesday morning at the church, where Norman said the grandfather of one of the victims was a member.

"This is a breach in our community, and we as a church are the repairers of that breach," church member Cheri Wells said. "I feel a sense of vulnerability. I feel pain and hurt. I feel we have been robbed. Our peace has been snatched from us."

Relatives of the surviving children asked that no details of their conditions be released, and it wasn't clear when or if they might be able to help investigators.

None of the victims had been identified. The owner of the home, Rob Robinson, has said that a man rented it and lived there with his girlfriend and at least three children. Robinson described the man and woman as in their late 20s and good tenants who paid their rent on time.

Authorities hoped for leads from the rough-edged community called Binghampton, where low-income houses and apartments sit near cheap motels and junkyards.

"We know there are people out there who have heard things, seen things, known things" that might help "put together pieces of the puzzle on what occurred in that home," said Lt. Joe Scott, a homicide detective.

The street where the killings occurred remained blocked off to bystanders and media Tuesday, the home cordoned off by crime-scene tape. A forensics van was parked out front.

Just down the street stand three cinderblock motels surrounded by privacy fences. Tough-looking dogs chained in backyards send up barks and howls.

The nearest major intersection has automobile salvage yards on all four corners, surrounded by chain-linked fences and razor wire.

It was not immediately clear how the killings could have gone unnoticed, though the neighborhood has had drug- and gang-related violence. Early Tuesday, as police investigated the six slayings, two men were shot and wounded in an unrelated home invasion about a mile away.

The weekend attack appeared to be the worst single shooting in Memphis in nearly 35 years. In May 1973, a man with a history of mental illness randomly shot and killed five people, including a police officer, before he was killed by police.

More recently, a firefighter killed four people in 2000, including two other firefighters and a sheriff's deputy.

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